Custom Toys and Action Figures by Blayne

Saturday, March 2, 2013

3D Printing

Much attention has been paid to 3D Printing lately, with new companies developing cheaper and more efficient consumer models that have wowed the tech community. They herald 3D Printing as a revolutionary and disruptive technology, but how will these printers truly affect our society? Beyond an initial novelty, 3D Printing could have a game-changing impact on consumer culture, copyright and patent law, and even the very concept of scarcity on which our economy is based. From at-home repairs to new businesses, from medical to ecological developments, 3D Printing has an undeniably wide range of possibilities which could profoundly change our world.
For designing toys, 3D printing is a fascinating technology. I've designed a few pieces using Google Sketchup (a free 3D modeling application), and had these parts for custom toys printed through ShapewaysI've also ordered custom designed parts made by other people online through the same service. 

The PBS video's example of a broken stroller part being replaced by a 3D printed piece might seem abstract for artists or collectors - however, when the shoulder's fractured in an expensive Japanese import figure (a Yamato Macross transforming airplane/robot) - I tracked down someone who created a replica of the part, since it was a design flaw in the entire run of these figures. $10 + shipping later, the parts arrived, and I replaced the whole assembly using the pre-existing screws. The 3D printed part actually functioned better than the original plastic, and was more accessible than replacement parts from the company.

Two areas I've noticed 3D printing effecting artist and collector communities are in miniature wargaming (Warhammer 40K, and other tabletop models), and the Transformer customizing community. Artists like Ariel Lemon (Facebook / Shapewaves) is one of many robot-specific designers producing add on kits for existing figures - and even full figures using Shapeways.

Pricing is still an issue, as any figure above 2" tall becomes astronomically expensive. However, as the technology advances, and perhaps graduates from the ABS plastic or bonded plaster print-head method of 3D printing, we'll gradually see lower, more accessible prices.

Particularly newer printer types like the Kickstarted "Form 1" 3D printer. 3D printers like this offer better resolution (smoothness), which unlike print-head machines, use a light projector to cure ultra-thin sections of a model as it's 'pulled' out of a liquid polymer. The end result lacks the 'printed with a tube of toothpaste' striation effect of older Makerbot-style printers.

Check out this interesting comparison between the ABS Makebot-style printers and an emulsion-based Form-1's output below. I'm strongly considering investing in a similar device within the next few years.

05/04/2013 Update:
Interesting consumer friendly 3D scanners are also popping up, like this Canadian IndieGoGo campaign mentioned at